Mark Rutte - 'The Trump Whisperer' leads NATO

Known for cycling to work, the Dutchman Mark Rutte will need all his balancing skills to lead NATO through one of the most difficult periods in its history.

NATO's 32 member states have appointed the former Dutch prime minister as their next secretary-general. He will take office on 1 October and become the fourth Dutchman to lead the alliance.

The 1.93m tall 57-year-old Rutte has a number of nicknames, including "Teflon Mark" for his resilience in the face of scandal and "The Trump Whisperer" for his ability to get along with the former US president.

The former quality allowed him to remain prime minister for 14 years, the longest in the country, surviving the resignation of his government in 2021 after a welfare scandal. He eventually resigned last year after infighting within his coalition over the issue of refugee asylum.

The second competency could prove crucial at the helm of NATO, with Trump possibly returning to power, who is notoriously skeptical of the United States' commitment to the alliance.

He is credited with saving the 2018 NATO summit by talking to Trump about defense spending.

He also displayed typical Dutch candour with the former Republican president during his visit to Washington in 2018, where he interrupted him with a firm "no" when he said it would be "positive" not to reach a trade agreement with the EU.

More recently, Rutte was again outspoken at the Munich Security Conference, saying Europe must work "with everyone on the ground".

"All this bitching and moaning about Trump, I hear it all the time in the last few days, let's stop," he said.

As for Ukraine, Rutte spearheaded efforts to supply the country with F-16 fighter jets, a decision described as "historic" by President Volodymyr Zelensky during a trip to the Netherlands.

"Ukraine has to win this war. For its and our security," said the man who did not hesitate to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin as "cold, brutal and ruthless" shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

To become head of NATO, Rutte showed great diplomatic skill to persuade the main holdouts, Turkey and Hungary.

The latter were offended by his comments when he said Budapest should not be part of the EU after the adoption of a law banning the promotion of LGBTQ content to minors.

In addition, he angered southern European countries with his tough stance on financial rescue plans, which earned him another nickname: 'Mr No'.

In his own country, Mark Rutte prides himself on the image of "Mr Normal". As well as arriving by bicycle to meetings with foreign leaders, he shops in a supermarket and drives his own Saab to visit the King.

In a video that has become popular, he insists on cleaning up the coffee he has just spilled in one of the government buildings, to the applause of officials.

His political career, however, has been marked by several scandals. The sudden collapse of his coalition last year triggered an election won by Geert Wilders' far-right party.

Mark Rutte is the youngest of 7 children. His father Isaac was a shop owner. His mother Mieke is the sister of Isaac's first wife who died in a Japanese camp during the Second World War.

He initially dreamed of a career as a pianist, but after his studies he took a job with the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever.

His celibacy sparked media speculation, but he always deflected questions, saying only that he was "happy".

He describes himself as "a man of habit and tradition" and has spent his entire life in The Hague, where he teaches on a voluntary basis.

"Mark doesn't like change, he always wants the same thing," says Marco Rimelzvan, his hairdresser. | BGNES


Charlotte Van Overkerk for AFP